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Asbestosis





Asbestosis

Causes of asbestosis

Asbestosis is caused by breathing in asbestos fibres. Certain trades are more likely to have been exposed to asbestos in the past.

When you inhale a foreign body, such as a dust particle, cells called macrophages (found in the alveoli) usually hunt and break the particle down before it gets into your lung tissues and blood stream.

However, asbestos fibres are too tough for the macrophages to break down. In an attempt to break down the asbestos fibres, the macrophages release substances to destroy the fibres. These substances can permanently damage the tiny air sacs in your lungs, known as alveoli.

When you breathe in, the alveoli help to transfer oxygen from your lungs into your blood. When you breathe out, the alveoli help to transfer carbon dioxide out of your blood, through your lungs and out of your mouth.

If you are exposed to asbestos fibres for a long period of time, the alveoli can become more severely damaged and scarred. The scarring is known as fibrosis. Fibrosis of the alveoli caused by large amounts of asbestos is known as asbestosis.

If the alveoli are scarred, your ability to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide will be affected, resulting in breathlessness.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a general term that refers to a group of minerals made of long, crystalline fibres.

There are three main types of asbestos – crocidolite (‘blue asbestos’), amosite (‘brown asbestos’) and chrysotile (‘white asbestos’). All types of asbestos are hazardous.

The most common type of asbestos for industrial use was white chrysotile asbestos. Amosite and crocidolite were banned in the 1980s, although voluntary bans on the industrial use of both of these materials came into force earlier than this. No crocidolite was imported into the UK after 1970. Chrysotile was not banned until 1999. There are still large amounts of all types of asbestos present in old buildings.

Occupations associated with asbestos exposure

The use of asbestos increased significantly after World War II. It peaked during the 1970s before declining during the 1980s and 1990s. You may have been exposed to asbestos if you worked in an industry such as building or construction, where asbestos was used during this time period.

Occupations particularly associated with exposure to asbestos include:

  • insulation workers
  • boilermakers
  • plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters
  • shipyard workers
  • sheet metal workers
  • plasterers
  • chemical technicians 
  • heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics

Industries known to have used asbestos during these times include:

  • construction
  • shipbuilding and repair
  • chemical manufacturing
  • non-metallic mineral stone production
  • railways
  • yarn, thread and fabric mills
  • rubber and plastic production
  • trucking services

Other factors

How asbestos affects individuals can also depend on other factors, including:

  • the type of asbestos fibre they were exposed to – blue asbestos is more dangerous than brown asbestos, and both blue and brown asbestos are much more dangerous than white asbestos
  • how much asbestos was breathed in
  • the individual’s health – for example, symptoms are likely to be more severe in people who smoked or had lung disease before being exposed to asbestos
Published Date
2014-09-22 09:26:21Z
Last Review Date
2012-09-10 00:00:00Z
Next Review Date
2014-09-10 00:00:00Z
Classification
Asbestosis






Asbestosis

Diagnosing asbestosis

When diagnosing asbestosis, your GP will first ask about your symptoms and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope (a medical instrument used to listen to the heart and lungs). If your lungs have been affected by asbestos, they will make a crackling noise when you breathe in.

Your GP will also ask about your work history, particularly about periods when you may have been exposed to asbestos, how long you may have been exposed, and whether you were issued with any safety equipment, such as a face mask, when you were working.

Referral to a specialist

If asbestosis is suspected, you will be referred to a specialist in lung diseases for tests to confirm any lung scarring. These may include: 

  • chest X-ray - to detect abnormalities in the structure of your lungs that could be caused by asbestosis
  • computerised tomography (CT) scan of the lungs - produces more detailed images of the lungs and the membrane covering the lungs, which can help diagnose early stage asbestosis
  • lung function testing (see below)

Lung function testing

Lung function testing can help:

  • assess the impact of damage to the lungs by how well the airways conduct air into the lungs
  • determine the overall size of the lungs 
  • assess how well oxygen crosses the membrane of the lungs into your bloodstream, as this is usually reduced in cases of asbestosis

Before confirming a diagnosis of asbestosis, the chest specialist will consider and rule out other possible causes of lung scarring, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In confirming a diagnosis of asbestosis, the most important factors are the type of asbestos found, and the amount of asbestos exposure.

Published Date
2014-09-22 09:26:23Z
Last Review Date
2012-09-10 00:00:00Z
Next Review Date
2014-09-10 00:00:00Z
Classification
Asbestosis,CT scan,X-rays






Asbestosis

Introduction

Asbestosis is a chronic (long-term) lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a soft, greyish-white material that does not burn. In the past it was widely used in building construction to protect against fire and as a form of insulation.

Symptoms of asbestosis

Breathing in asbestos dust can scar the lungs, which can lead to:

  • shortness of breath
  • cough

These symptoms usually begin many years after the initial exposure to asbestos. In most cases, the symptoms do not become apparent until 15 to 30 years after exposure.

Swollen fingers, known as finger clubbing, is a less common sign of asbestosis. It is usually associated with more advanced cases.

Asbestosis means the lung tissue has become scarred due to previous asbestos exposure. Pleural plaques or pleural thickening caused by asbestos are not the same as asbestosis. In these conditions, the membrane that covers the lungs (pleura) is damaged by asbestos, but the lungs themselves are unharmed.

Read more about the causes of asbestosis.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a general term that refers to a group of minerals made of long, crystalline fibres. Asbestos fibres are very strong and resistant to heat, electricity and chemicals. It was widely used in industries such as:

  • insulation
  • shipbuilding and railways
  • electricity generation
  • building and construction

There are three main types of asbestos:

  • crocidolite – blue asbestos
  • amosite – brown asbestos
  • chrysotile – white asbestos

All types of asbestos are hazardous, but blue and brown asbestos are much more dangerous than white asbestos. 

The most common type of asbestos for industrial use was white chrysotile asbestos. Amosite and crocidolite were banned in the 1980s, although voluntary bans on the industrial use of both of these materials came into force earlier than this. No crocidolite was imported into the UK after 1970. Chrysotile was not banned until 1999. There are still large amounts of all types of asbestos present in old buildings.

How common is asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a relatively rare condition as it takes a considerable amount of exposure to cause it, and regulations to restrict exposure have been in place for more than 40 years. However, in 2009 there were 189 deaths caused by asbestosis. During 2010, 1,015 people were assessed for industrial injuries disablement benefit for the condition.

In contrast with the decrease in the number of cases of asbestosis, cases of mesothelioma are increasing and are not expected to reach their peak until 2013-16. Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelial cells which make up the lining of the outer surface of organs including the lungs, heart and gut.

Mesothelioma can be caused by small amounts of asbestos exposure, which explains the difference in the number of cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma. This shows that the legislation introduced in 1970 to prevent high levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace helped to reduce the risk of asbestosis.

There are measures in place to help prevent future exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Read about preventing asbestosis for more details about this.

Treating asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis once it has developed because it is not possible to repair lung damage caused by asbestos. Some people with asbestosis find their condition progresses over time, although many do not.

The most important thing someone with asbestosis can do is to stop smoking (if they smoke). This is because the progression of asbestosis is more common in smokers compared with non-smokers. In cases of asbestosis, smoking also increases the risk of lung cancer.

Treatments, including oxygen therapy, can significantly improve the quality of life of someone with asbestosis.

Read more about treating asbestosis.

People with asbestosis have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions, such as those described below.

  • Lung cancer – one of the most common and serious types of cancer.
  • Mesothelioma – a type of cancer that affects the membrane that covers the lungs, heart and gut.
  • Pleural disease – the membrane that covers the lungs (pleura) becomes thicker. If the thickening is localised to a few patches, the condition is known as pleural plaques, which do not cause symptoms. However, if there is more thickening, it is known as diffuse pleural thickening. This can contribute to breathlessness and chest discomfort. Most people (about 95%) with asbestosis also have pleural thickening or pleural plaques.

Severe cases of asbestosis can place a significant strain on a person’s health and shorten their life expectancy.

However, in many cases the condition progresses very slowly, or not at all. More people with asbestosis die as a result of one or more of the cancers mentioned above rather than from asbestosis itself.

Compensation

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, you may be able to claim compensation. There are three main types of compensation, which are explained below.

  • industrial injuries disablement benefit – this is a weekly benefit that may be paid to people with asbestosis who were exposed to asbestos while in employment (but not self-employed)
  • it may also be possible to launch a civil claim for compensation through the courts – you will need to obtain legal advice about how to do this
  • you may be able to claim a lump sum in compensation under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 if you have asbestosis or you are the dependant of someone who has died from the condition, and you haven’t been able to get compensation through the courts because the employer who exposed you (or the person on whose behalf you are claiming) has ceased trading

Read more information about industrial injuries disablement benefit on the GOV.UK website.

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Published Date
2013-08-09 15:11:25Z
Last Review Date
2012-09-10 00:00:00Z
Next Review Date
2014-09-10 00:00:00Z
Classification
Asbestosis






Asbestosis

Preventing asbestosis

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012), certain measures have been put in place to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure, which can lead to asbestos-related diseases.

Examples of these measures include:

  • a licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to work in any occupation that deals with asbestos, such as asbestos insulation and coating
  • personal protective equipment, such as respirators, are needed to ensure safety
  • the second-hand use of asbestos products has been banned
  • suitable training is required for anyone who might be exposed to asbestos
  • a new control limit, which cannot be exceeded (0.1 fibres being breathed in per millilitre of air over a four-hour period)
  • employers cannot use their own workers to carry out work in their own premises that would usually require a licence without first obtaining a licence
  • whoever has control of a building must assess and manage any asbestos that exists in that building
  • a risk assessment must be carried out by all employers to assess the risk of their employees’ exposure to asbestos
  • some non-licensed work needs to be notified to the relevant enforcing authority, and brief written records should be kept of non-licensed work that has to be notified
  • by April 2015, all workers/self-employed doing notifiable non-licensed work with asbestos must be under health surveillance by a doctor

Read the full Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (pdf, 142kb).

If you are not sure whether the asbestos materials you are working with pose a risk to your health, you should stop working and seek advice from your employer.

If you are still concerned after speaking to your employer, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your trade union representative (if you have one).

Asbestos risks

Strict regulations were introduced in 1970 to regulate the use of asbestos in the workplace.

However, the import, supply and use of brown and blue types of asbestos was not banned in the UK until 1985. White asbestos was banned in 1999, except for a small number of specialist uses of the material. This means that buildings that were built or refurbished before the year 2000 could still contain asbestos.

Read the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Asbestos Hidden Killer campaign leaflet (pdf, 362kb).

Published Date
2014-09-22 09:26:26Z
Last Review Date
2012-09-10 00:00:00Z
Next Review Date
2014-09-10 00:00:00Z
Classification
Asbestosis

































































Asbestosis 

Introduction 

Asbestos


Viewing video content in NHS Choices

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The four main diseases caused by asbestos are mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and plural plaque. In this video, an expert explains the dangers of contact with asbestos, who is most at risk of exposure and what precautions to take.

Media last reviewed: 06/08/2014

Next review due: 06/08/2016

Health risk

Asbestos can be a very dangerous material. If it is undisturbed, it does not present a health risk. However, if materials that contain asbestos are chipped, drilled, broken or simply allowed to deteriorate – for example, due to exposure to weather – they release a fine dust that contains tiny asbestos fibres.

If someone breathes in the dust, the asbestos fibres enter the lung and can cause disease. For asbestosis to develop, prolonged exposure to relatively high numbers of the fibres is necessary.

Mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by asbestos, can occur after much less exposure. For this reason, all exposure to asbestos should be avoided if possible.

In 1970, strict regulations were introduced to regulate the use of asbestos in the workplace and limit an employee’s exposure to it.

Read about preventing asbestosis for more information about the regulations.

Asbestosis is a chronic (long-term) lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a soft, greyish-white material that does not burn. In the past it was widely used in building construction to protect against fire and as a form of insulation.

Symptoms of asbestosis

Breathing in asbestos dust can scar the lungs, which can lead to:

  • shortness of breath
  • cough

These symptoms usually begin many years after the initial exposure to asbestos. In most cases, the symptoms do not become apparent until 15 to 30 years after exposure.

Swollen fingers, known as finger clubbing, is a less common sign of asbestosis. It is usually associated with more advanced cases.

Asbestosis means the lung tissue has become scarred due to previous asbestos exposure. Pleural plaques or pleural thickening caused by asbestos are not the same as asbestosis. In these conditions, the membrane that covers the lungs (pleura) is damaged by asbestos, but the lungs themselves are unharmed.

Read more about the causes of asbestosis.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a general term that refers to a group of minerals made of long, crystalline fibres. Asbestos fibres are very strong and resistant to heat, electricity and chemicals. It was widely used in industries such as:

  • insulation
  • shipbuilding and railways
  • electricity generation
  • building and construction

There are three main types of asbestos:

  • crocidolite – blue asbestos
  • amosite – brown asbestos
  • chrysotile – white asbestos

All types of asbestos are hazardous, but blue and brown asbestos are much more dangerous than white asbestos. 

The most common type of asbestos for industrial use was white chrysotile asbestos. Amosite and crocidolite were banned in the 1980s, although voluntary bans on the industrial use of both of these materials came into force earlier than this. No crocidolite was imported into the UK after 1970. Chrysotile was not banned until 1999. There are still large amounts of all types of asbestos present in old buildings.

How common is asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a relatively rare condition as it takes a considerable amount of exposure to cause it, and regulations to restrict exposure have been in place for more than 40 years. However, in 2009 there were 189 deaths caused by asbestosis. During 2010, 1,015 people were assessed for industrial injuries disablement benefit for the condition.

In contrast with the decrease in the number of cases of asbestosis, cases of mesothelioma are increasing and are not expected to reach their peak until 2013-16. Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelial cells which make up the lining of the outer surface of organs including the lungs, heart and gut.

Mesothelioma can be caused by small amounts of asbestos exposure, which explains the difference in the number of cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma. This shows that the legislation introduced in 1970 to prevent high levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace helped to reduce the risk of asbestosis.

There are measures in place to help prevent future exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Read about preventing asbestosis for more details about this.

Treating asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis once it has developed because it is not possible to repair lung damage caused by asbestos. Some people with asbestosis find their condition progresses over time, although many do not.

The most important thing someone with asbestosis can do is to stop smoking (if they smoke). This is because the progression of asbestosis is more common in smokers compared with non-smokers. In cases of asbestosis, smoking also increases the risk of lung cancer.

Treatments, including oxygen therapy, can significantly improve the quality of life of someone with asbestosis.

Read more about treating asbestosis.

People with asbestosis have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions, such as those described below.

  • Lung cancer – one of the most common and serious types of cancer.
  • Mesothelioma – a type of cancer that affects the membrane that covers the lungs, heart and gut.
  • Pleural disease – the membrane that covers the lungs (pleura) becomes thicker. If the thickening is localised to a few patches, the condition is known as pleural plaques, which do not cause symptoms. However, if there is more thickening, it is known as diffuse pleural thickening. This can contribute to breathlessness and chest discomfort. Most people (about 95%) with asbestosis also have pleural thickening or pleural plaques.

Severe cases of asbestosis can place a significant strain on a person’s health and shorten their life expectancy.

However, in many cases the condition progresses very slowly, or not at all. More people with asbestosis die as a result of one or more of the cancers mentioned above rather than from asbestosis itself.

Compensation

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, you may be able to claim compensation. There are three main types of compensation, which are explained below.

  • industrial injuries disablement benefit – this is a weekly benefit that may be paid to people with asbestosis who were exposed to asbestos while in employment (but not self-employed)
  • it may also be possible to launch a civil claim for compensation through the courts – you will need to obtain legal advice about how to do this
  • you may be able to claim a lump sum in compensation under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 if you have asbestosis or you are the dependant of someone who has died from the condition, and you haven’t been able to get compensation through the courts because the employer who exposed you (or the person on whose behalf you are claiming) has ceased trading

Read more information about industrial injuries disablement benefit on the GOV.UK website.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2012

Next review due: 11/09/2014

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Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

pizzachops said on 07 June 2013

This content is way out of date. Following tests by the HSE on chrysotile asbestos is now regarded as equally dangerous to health as blue and brown.

Asbestos in the building trade is still regarded as some kind of irelevance and the dangers posed as being wide of the mark. Yet each year we hear of colleagues or family members not reaching retirement because they have died from asbestos related diseases. It doesnt only include building workers it also includeds teaching staff or anyone
who works in older buildings where remedial work has been done over the years. Have you any idea for example what is in the dust above that nice new suspended ceiling facilities put in last week. Are you aware that the tiles they replaced may have contained asbestos?

But hey, as the NHS say here, numbers are going down so alls well. No worries here then!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

richardeortiz said on 29 November 2011

Hi

Really the post is awesome.Thanks for sharing such good post.Please can u tell me What are the health effects of asbestos exposure?

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Silicosis

Read about silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust

Asbestos and lung cancer

Exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer. Ian Wright is supporting a campaign to raise awareness among tradesmen

Find and choose services for Asbestosis











Asbestosis

Treating asbestosis

There are no treatments available to cure asbestosis. However, you can take steps to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

These are outlined below.

Not smoking

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis and you smoke, it is very important to give up as soon as possible.

Smoking will make your symptoms of breathlessness worse, and significantly increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Your asbestosis is more likely to get worse if you smoke as well.

Speak to your GP for help with giving up smoking. They can advise about nicotine replacement therapies and prescription medicines, such as bupropion, which can greatly increase your chances of quitting successfully. Your GP can also put you in touch with local support groups in your area.

You can also call the NHS Smokefree helpline (0300 123 1044) to get more help and advice about quitting smoking.

Read more information about stopping smoking.

Vaccinations

If you have asbestosis, your lungs will be more vulnerable to the effects of infection. Therefore, it is recommended you receive the influenza vaccination and a vaccination against the pneumococcus bacterium, which can cause serious conditions such as pneumonia. Your GP can arrange for you to have these vaccinations.

You will need the influenza vaccine every year. Most people only require one dose of the pneumococcus vaccine, although additional booster shots may be recommended if your general health is poor.

Read more information about pneumococcal infections.

Long-term oxygen therapy

If you have severe asbestosis, your body may not be getting all the oxygen it needs to function properly. If this is the case, oxygen therapy may be supplied through a machine called an oxygen concentrator. This form of treatment may be recommended if you have low levels of oxygen in your blood.

An oxygen concentrator is plugged into a mains socket. It purifies oxygen from the air in the room, which produces a more oxygen-rich supply of air. The oxygen-rich air can then be breathed in through a mask. The oxygen is breathed through a small soft plastic tube (nasal cannula), which is placed just inside your nostrils.

Do not smoke when you are using an oxygen concentrator. It produces an increased level of oxygen that is highly flammable, and a lit cigarette or flame could cause a fire or an explosion.

Ambulatory oxygen

In addition to the oxygen concentrator, you may be given a small, portable oxygen tank and mask, which you can use when you leave your house. This is known as ambulatory oxygen.

Medicines

The aim of treating asbestosis is to improve symptoms, such as shortness of breath, and to improve the person’s overall quality of life. Most people with asbestosis will not benefit from any specific medication for the condition. More severe cases may benefit from medicines, such as small doses of morphine, to reduce breathlessness and cough. Extra oxygen can also be given to someone if their blood oxygen levels are low.

Morphine

Morphine in small doses is often used for patients with severe asbestosis. It has two main benefits:

  • reducing the sensation of breathlessness
  • suppressing the urge to cough

The dose required to achieve these benefits is usually small. Serious side effects are uncommon. The most common problem is constipation, and a laxative will usually be given at the same time.

Published Date
2014-09-22 09:26:30Z
Last Review Date
2012-09-10 00:00:00Z
Next Review Date
2014-09-10 00:00:00Z
Classification
Asbestosis,Breathlessness,Lung cancer,Oxygen therapy,Smoker,Stopping smoking,Vaccinations